US death toll from coronavirus passes 25,000; California governor says science dictates when state can reopen
Steve Almasy, Jason Hanna, Christina Maxouris and Cheri Mossburg
The governor of California, the first state to put a coronavirus stay-at-home order in place, told his 40 million residents that the key to going back to work and play depends on six factors -- but it's still too early to tell how soon that will be.
"Science, not politics must be the guide," Gov. Gavin Newsom said, joining a growing number of states that are taking it upon themselves to figure out how to get back to normal. "We can't get ahead of ourselves .... I don't want to make a political decision. That puts people's lives at risk."
Newsom's remarks Tuesday come as the death toll from the coronavirus in the United States passed 25,000 -- according to Johns Hopkins University -- and as governors across the county discuss the options for reopening businesses and schools in their states.
There have been signs that the US is nearing the peak of its coronavirus outbreak, with the number of deaths reported each day and the number of new cases leveling off.
The Trump administration has social distancing guidelines in effect through the end of the month. President Donald Trump said Tuesday it will be up to the governors when to reopen but he thought the federal government would give a date to them. Some states might open before April 30, he predicted.
California officials during this phase of the pandemic are looking toward means of Covid-19 suppression, herd immunity and, ultimately, a vaccine, but it will be "perhaps the most difficult and challenging phase of all," Newsom said.
The governor said that was saying a lot because the phase that has brought 734 deaths and new cases was very challenging.
Herd immunity is when so many people in the community have had the virus and become immune that it largely prevents further spread.
What needs to happen for order to be lifted
Newsom emphasized that reopening schools is the priority.
"We need to get our kids back to school. I need to get my kids back to school," he said with a chuckle.
The governor said he doesn't envision any mass gatherings at sporting events or concerts until there is a vaccine and sufficient herd immunity.
The six things that need to happen before a stay-at-home order is lifted involve the state's ability to: Expand testing and track the infected, protect vulnerable people, meet the needs of medical caregivers during the most trying times, to have drugs for treatment, to have businesses and schools comply with social distancing, and to be able to reinstate a stay at home order, if need be.
California is part of a compact with Oregon and Washington that is looking at how to reopen. The leaders in those three contiguous West Coast states and in seven Northeastern states said they would regionally plan an incremental release of stay-at-home orders.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo in particular said he'd fight in court any federal order to reopen his state's economy if he thought it was premature and endangered New Yorkers' health.
"If (President Trump) ordered me to reopen it in a way that would endanger the public health of the people of my state, I wouldn't do it," Cuomo told CNN's "New Day."
That may ultimately clash with the plans of Trump, who claimed Monday he has "total" authority to override governors, and who is expected to announce Tuesday a special council to plan the country's reopening.
By Tuesday, more than 602,000 cases of the virus had been reported in the US. At least 25,500 people have died.
US is 'not there yet' to reopen, Fauci says
Thoughts of opening the country's economy on May 1, when federal social distancing guidelines are set to expire, is "a bit overly optimistic" for many places in the US, the country's top infectious disease official told The Associated Press.
The US doesn't have enough capacity to test for and trace Covid-19 cases, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told the AP.
"We have to have something in place that is efficient and that we can rely on, and we're not there yet," said Fauci.
The process of reopening would likely happen on a "rolling" basis and not simultaneously across the country.
"I'll guarantee you, once you start pulling back, there will be infections. It's how you deal with the infections that's going to count," Fauci told the AP, adding that we need ways to get people "out of circulation if they get infected, because once you start getting clusters, then you're really in trouble."
Fauci's comments come after Trump said the White House plans to unveil a committee focused on reopening the country in the coming weeks.
An influential model cited by the White House, meanwhile, predicts the pandemic could "peter out" in late spring, with deaths essentially stopping around 68,800 by the end of June. The model predicts the US may have seen peak daily deaths on Monday.
But the model from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington assumes nationwide social distancing through May, and experts are wary about the model's assumption that there will be no resurgence of the virus in the summer months.
Though US lawmakers have approved more than $2 trillion in stimulus, the International Monetary Fund said it expects the US economy to shrink by 5.9% this year -- the worst slump since 1946.
In Raleigh, North Carolina, dozens of demonstrators gathered outside the state legislative building Tuesday to protest the state's stay-at-home order, CNN affiliate WRAL reported.
After an hour, dpolice officers asked the group to disperse, saying too many people were there, too close together. Most left; one person was taken away in handcuffs after refusing to leave, WRAL reported.
Cuomo still wants federal help, and says he wants no fight with President
The potential clash between governors and the White House reflect one of the challenges the country will face in adapting to the pandemic.
Trump responded on Twitter to Cuomo's comments Tuesday morning, saying the New York governor had been "begging for everything," such as field hospitals and ventilators.
"I got it all done for him and everyone else, and now he seems to want independence! That won't happen," Trump tweeted.
Data continue to show New York, the state with the most reported coronavirus cases, is near its apex, Cuomo said at a later news conference.
Daily deaths were up Monday -- 778, against 671 the day before. But a three-day average in the net change of hospitalizations was down, he said.
Cuomo told reporters in Albany that ultimately he wanted no fight with the President -- and that he wanted the federal government's help doing things states are struggling to do.
Cuomo said states appear to be competing for coronavirus tests, just as he said weeks earlier that states were trying to outbid each other for scarce medical equipment like ventilators.
The federal government should be in charge of purchasing and distributing, he said.
"I want to get out of the ... competition business for ... vital testing," Cuomo said.
A new hydroxychloroquine trial
South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem announced Monday the state was working with Sanford Health to conduct a statewide hydroxychloroquine trial, which will include both patients who have tested positive for the virus and residents who have been exposed.
Patients who have been exposed to the virus will receive either hydroxychloroquine or a placebo, Sanford Health's chief medical officer Allison Suttle said.
"We're going on offense to help every single person deal with this virus and be willing to fight it and get better and go home to their families," the governor said.
The news comes as researchers in New York are expected to announce next week preliminary results of a study on hydroxychloroquine used on patients in that state -- offering one of the first scientific hints as to whether the drugs are helpful against coronavirus.